The stupefying criticism of Superhero comics and films

Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice opened on Good Friday to a barrage of criticism from all and sundry, myself included. Now for me, it’s objectively a bad film. The script is a mess, characters have confused motivations at best, women are treated appallingly, Superman is an idiot, Batman’s a psychotic idiot, and let’s not talk about Lex Luthor/Jesse Eisenberg because I’ll be here for months.

I understand people are going to like this film. I think they’re a bit mad but people think I’m a bit mad for liking things like ELO, or that Inland Empire is at least as good a David Lynch film as Mulholland Drive.If your level of criticism is ‘THIS FILM RAPED MY CHILDHOOD’ or a variation of The Simpson’s Comic Book Guy then that’s not especially criticism. Throw a rock into the pool that is YouTube and you’ll hit at least a fistful of reviews like that but they’re as painfully shite as the film they’re smugly criticising.

At the same time, you’ll also see a lot of very good reviews from people who are obviously superhero comic fans. You can see that it clearly hurts them that this is a bad film but they’re being as fair as possible. These aren’t ”haters”, these are people who want better than what’s being served up to them. Like football fans, superhero comic fans are being exploited by huge companies that see them as a money pit. They know they’ll come and see a dog like Batman versus Superman regardless of the advance reviews because they want to make up their own minds. I did it myself and I’m no longer the superhero fan I used to be. Of course there’s a chance audiences are going to stay away once everyone’s sussed it’s crap, and indeed, that’s happening, but by now the money’s out our pockets, DC/Warners are happy and that depressing Justice League film nobody’s ever wanted is on its way.

There’s nothing wrong with fans or critics wanting better. There’s everything wrong with not understanding this as this article on Bleeding Cool does. The author of the piece, Dan Wickline says this:

But my point is this. If you are reading this post, then you care about the comic book industry. You are a fan of the work and you want it to succeed. Otherwise why would you be looking at Bleeding Cool?Whether you admit it or not, you want the industry to thrive so that more books are shipped, more movies are made, more television shows are adapted. And you’re not going to like everything ever made nor are you expected to. But each of you have people who read what you say on social media and they pick up on what you are feeling. If you share excitement, then excitement spreads, but if you share hatred, then that is what they will pick up on.

What’s the point of telling people how much you didn’t like something, how much you think a movie has destroyed your vision of a character or a comic has made you feel like you wasted your money. Negativity breeds negativity. And negativity hurts the industry that we love.

If you didn’t like Batman v Superman, fine. But why put that negativity into the world when you can talk about a movie you did like or one that you are excited about coming up? Why talk about how much you think a certain publisher is ruining their characters when you can talk about a comic you do like. You can share your excitement about the good things in this industry just as the writers and artists yesterday shared there’s. You can be negative and keep someone from going to see a movie or you could be positive and get them to pick up a new book or try an animated feature.

This industry survives through the excitement of the fans and creators involved in it. And it thrives when that excitement is shared. Maybe think about that the next time you go to post something.

This is at best, an inane childish argument. At worst it’s supporting the exploitation of fans in lapping up shite ‘product’ because if we have more ‘product’ we’ll have a better ‘industry’.

I don’t especially care for the comic book industry. I’ve been there in my time and although there’s fine people in it, there’s too many arseholes surrounded by sycophants pushing crap to fans knowing fine well they’ll buy something rubbish. It’s the argument that places commerce over quality. ”If there’s loads of stuff out things are doing well!!’

Less is sometimes more. I care for the medium of comic books which I’ve felt for around 40 years to be an art form neglected and despised when it shouldn’t be. There’s some extraordinary works of art in the world of comics and some astonishing creators who slave away doing the best they can in a market that’s swamped with drivel. This is the fight between the further commercialisation of the comics medium (Geek culture is after all another way for companies to market things to people) which is the subject of the excellent Jaques Peretti series, The Men Who Made Us Spend.Peretti actually uses the comic fan as part of the discussion of commercialisation.

The medium of comics thrive because there’s good stuff out there. Not because the 524th DC revamp has been announced, or there’s 71 Batman books published every month. That’s just selling product so shareholders make money. There might be the odd diamond in the rough but if your argument against criticism is that it’s being ‘negative’ and you should talk about good then frankly that’s the argument of someone that’s drunk the Kool Aid and is more interested in ‘cool stuff’ than quality. After all if you’re wanting to be a ‘journalist’ in comics (and there’s very,very few actual real examples of comics journalists) it’s not good form to rock the boat by calling a big publisher’s product shite.

You want a better industry then fight for it. Don’t put up with crap because you like the people involved or it’s horrible hearing bad things or you don’t want to fuck up your chances of that job with Marvel or DC someday.

As bad as this is it’s not as bad as the ”I don’t read comics because they’re for kids” argument generally made by ridiculous snobbish Guardian hacks or in the latest example, some Hipster clickbait manufacturer at the Daily Telegraph by the name of Rhymer Rigby whose previous columns for the paper include the intellectual heights of ‘‘How to deal with a killer hangover at work”.

It’s the usual bollocks. Man decides comics are now beneath him. Sneers a lot. The site picks up a load of traffic. Man goes to sit with his equally sad friends in some soulless London pub. Takes a load of cocaine. Bangs one out in the toilet. Cries a bit. Goes home. Does the same tomorrow.

So I’m not saying the medium of comics is beyond criticism. It’s not. I’m also not saying my attempts are the peak of criticism. They’re not. But if people want better comics then they’ll have to call out the crap and do it right. If people want better then that doesn’t mean they want more titles. Wanting better isn’t wrong, and neither are adults liking comics or the related media, even if some of these things are terrible. Wanting better or seeing things in a medium or genre sneered upon by arseholes like Rhymer Rigby can’t see because he’s just yet another clickbait producing hack for the London press is a good thing. If only to show the potential of the medium and also, to put people like that in their place.

A week in journalism……

Two stories this week are prime examples of how many modern journalists work. First up is the tragic death of Peaches Geldof. It was obviously sad to hear of a 25 year old mother of two die so young, however the moment she died she went from being a figure generally considered to be a subject of mockery thanks to her lack of any talent to something approaching a great national figure who’s death touched us all!

Brendan O’Neill at Spiked wrote a fantastic piece which cuts to the heart of this and it’s worth reading as it cuts through all the hysteria that’s been sweeping the media and social media over the last week since Geldof’s untimely death. As O’Neill points out, things are not rational.

And yet her death has been turned into a national event, with not only the celebocracy churning out trite tweets of brief grief for its fallen member, but even politicians, presidents and significant swathes of the public expressing sorrow for her passing. That even an It girl, mostly famous for being the daughter of Sir Bob and once having had a televisual run-in with foghorn-made-flesh Katie Hopkins, can be mourned like this, can become the object of ceaseless howls of 140 characters of sorrow, shows how ravenous the culture of public grieving has become. It doesn’t even need a Diana or pope anymore in order to get its death-watching rocks off; anyone will do.

 

The reaction to her death has become a horrible thing to watch because really, it’s a thing her family and friends should be involved with, not everyone on Twitter or Facebook, but it does provide an endless stream of material for journalists (and I’m using this word in a loose way here) to put out any old guff with this utterly risible article in The Guardian by Tanya Gold being an example. It’s an example of how journalists now work. Gone are the hours of research and fact-checking, now it’s scouring Twitter for ideas and commenting upon what they see on social media.Gold is trying essentially to have her cake and eat it as she’s trying to be clever by commenting upon people commenting but it’s all a bit, well, seedy to use this meta concept (yes, I’m aware I’m adding a lair to this but I’m not cashing in) as an excuse to cash in on the hysteria round the death of someone who was only a week ago someone who was a subject of derision.

Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that not everyone is on social media, and that actually, Twitter isn’t anything but a slightly skewed reflection of reality, and this is backed up by the ridiculous demands of Twitter users to get Katie Hopkins to Tweet about Peaches Geldof because for some reason Hopkins (someone I consider to be genuinely evil) should because she’ll be an even worse person if she didn’t. Then at the end of this week, The Guardian printed this article by something called Bunny Kinney which is supposed to be a personal tribute to Geldof, but only mentions her three times and uses the word ‘I’ more than it mentions Geldof. It’s an extraordinary piece that highlights the world Geldof did inhabit, that privileged Trustafarian/trust fund world where children of wealthy people have parties and ultimately have no talent or do nothing which brings me to the first thing I thought of when Geldof died, after of course the basic human thing of feeling sorry for her family.

The first thing I thought of was this clip from an old Charlie Brooker Screenwipe. It’s still relevant.

The second story is about the Facebook page/blog Women who eat on the Tube. This weird creeper site has been around apparently since 2011 but was only picked up as a news story when a journalist made a complaint about her picture being on it. Now rather than let the site die, or continue to be mainly ignored by the world at large outside of it’s 16,000 members at the time, the media this week saw the story of Twitter and decided to give it endless amounts of publicity so that at last count the groups members had passed the 20k mark after article after article in the media based upon only the Twitter reaction. This has resulted in a protest against the group (which has been up and running for three years) happening with a mass picnic this weekend.

Again the reaction to this has been manufactured on social media. This doesn’t mean that Women who eat on the Tube is vile, as all creeper or stalker sites are but to suddenly become offended about a three year old site is creating a bigger controversy than is deserved. However a number of liberal left leaning journalists as well as right leaning conservatives journalists found the time to say pretty similar things about it as if this were an important issue of the day along with the death of Peaches Geldof.

Let’s take an example of a story that was on the whole, barely reported in anywhere near the detail of the two examples I’ve given. In Iraq women and children’s human rights are being endangered as childhood marriage is being legalised and marital rape is condoned. This by all rights should be a major story, especially among the alleged left leaning press, but short of a few mentions here and there it’s not hit the same coverage as the death of a minor celebrity or a website that’s wrong but few people knew about til last week. This story does however challenge some beliefs so if you’re a conservative then you may well look at this story and think that the war in Iraq was indeed the failure many of us said it was from the off. If you’re a left leaning or liberal journalist you may look at this story and it forces you to ignore it because it means dealing with the problems of extremists within Islam, so as a friend on Facebook pointed out, it ends up getting ignored or skimmed over because actual journalism isn’t something most journalists do anymore. They sit on Twitter looking at what other journalists Tweet, or just plainly steal other people’s work and recycle it so you don’t have journalists tackling tough subjects as a norm anymore. You don’t see hard investigative journalism but instead it’s article after article which gets the clicks, helps with the site’s SEO and helps keep the advertisers happy.

If this means that an untimely death of a 25 year old mother of two is turned from a family tragedy into a National Event, or that a reaction to a three year old stalker site is treated as important Earth-shattering bits of news it’s because it’s easy to write about and deals in nice black and white morality. It’s something that doesn’t involve a lot of work and you get an easy reaction from people whereas doing actual investigative journalism means putting in the hours, doing the work and often dealing with topics which provoke a very nuanced response from people. Problem is that nuance doesn’t make money for advertisers or media organisations.

So next time you see a story blowing up as we have this week, delve deeper into what stories are being missed that deserve greater coverage, or indeed, what stories aren’t being covered by the major news organisations at all, and of course this is all helped by people merrily jumping on the bandwagon to increase the profile of stories that aren’t really major stories.

In short, get a fucking grip and a sense of perspective.

 

EDITED TO ADD:

As if to prove a point, here’s Barbara Ellen’s article in The Observer which misses the point completely in yet another article which tries to have it’s cake and eat it. Geldof wasn’t famous for being anything but the daughter of some more famous parents and as said, was generally the subject of mockery for her lack of any discernible talent.This isn’t to mock her now she’s dead, but to put into perspective what’s happening because someone can’t instantly have this legacy rewritten because they died and people are generally suffering from this Diana-esque mass hysteria.

So when Ellen says:

For one thing, to say that Geldof “wasn’t really famous” is snide rubbish. She had extremely famous parents and was very much in the public eye in her own modish, scattergun way. To claim that she was culturally irrelevant is to misunderstand the nature of modern celebrity – where, far from slavish adoration of tedious A-listers, people keep up with people they are interested in (via magazines, Twitter, Instagram et al) in a laid-back way, sometimes for the silliest and slightest of reasons.

It’s shows the vacuous, empty and self-obsessed nature of this as Ellen, like other commentators, make Geldof’s death about Ellen and her family.

In my case, my daughter briefly resembled Peaches, and, for a while, it became a family in-joke that she should forget about university and seek her fortune as her professional lookalike. Hence Peaches made her bizarre foray into our family conversation, which lasted long after the resemblance faded. We retained a little soft spot for Peaches (gobby little madam) past the partying, through to the hilarious row with Katie Hopkins, and her obvious enchantment with young motherhood.

When she died, it was this latter point that snagged: to have that simple happiness snatched away seemed so cruel – just as cruel (no more, no less) as if it happened to someone non-famous.

 

See, Geldof’s death isn’t destroying people;s natural empathy. Far from it. It’s making people’s sense of empathy get bludgeoned under a barrage of comments from people treating Peaches Geldof as a personal friend who touched them while skimming over what she did, or didn’t do.

That’s the problem. Let the family have the space to grieve on their terms rather than this endless attempt for people to write themselves into this. That’s frankly, fucking repulsive.

 

Why People Hate Actual Journalism In Comics

The other day Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool broke the news that DC Comics were moving from New York, their home since their inception, to Burbank in California on America’s west coast. That’s a pretty big bit of news as it means DC Comics are essentially no longer focused on creating comics, but product for it’s parent company Warner Brothers, not to mention it potentially effects the jobs of an awful lot of people.

You’d think that Johnston would be getting questions from creators, staff and users of his website, plus fans across the world about the possible effects of this, but no, instead his forums are full of people attacking him for being in ‘bad taste’ for breaking the story, or essentially trying to get hits for his site, which he does, but this wasn’t clickbait, but an actual really major news story. A follow up article by Johnston points out the possible repercussions of the move, and again, he’s attacked on his forum by people being exceptionally up their own arses because he’s dared break the line and talk about a news story as a journalist would do in any other sector.

The problem people seem to have isn’t that Johnston broke the story; he’s entirely within his right to do so, but that he broke the cosy little relationship that the likes of DC Comics have with the (and I use this term very loosely) the world of comics journalism. As the news filtered out through the official sources, it was just clearly a case of sites parroting official DC press releases and passing it off as ‘news’ or even worse ‘journalism’. Printing press releases without question isn’t journalism, it’s just a form of churnalism that everyone does, but for some reason comics seem to be riddled more with this than most other industries as there’s little or no original journalism in comics.

Why is this? Well, there’s a simple reason. The overwhelming majority of people working in ”comics journalism’ are eyeing a job further up the food chain, so they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to piss off a potential future employer. Making a ‘bad name’ for yourself at a stage when you’re working for a minimal wage, or in the case of bloggers, normally nothing, means you won’t get the editors job, or the writing job, or even that presenting job on a TV channel talking about comics. Why are people on froums attacking Johnston? Because some harbour the idea they might get a job working for DC or Marvel someday. Some are just going with the consensus because after all, why rock the boat?

I’m not saying Johnston is a serious investigative reporter: he’s not and at times he panders to the mainstream as much as any other example but he does something nobody else does in the nepotistic world of comics ‘journalism’ in that he’s not scared to put people’s noses out of joint because he wants to be a journalist (of sorts) rather than try to blag his way to a comfy job with one of the major publishers.

Journalism should be about trying to uncover or find the truth, or tell a story that needs to be told rather than just blandly report the news, or just act as a free marketing tool for giant publishing companies presenting advertorial as articles and news. It doesn’t need to be this way and to be fair, I’m painting a darker picture than it is, as there’s some good criticism and journalism at the like of The Comics Journal, and elsewhere, but wading through the comics sites and blogs that are everywhere online is like wading through an Olympic swimming pool full of straw trying to find a penny.

A few words about San Diego Comic Con, the state of comics journalism and why I’m doing this blog in the first place..

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I’ve been following the San Diego Comic Con online partly because I’m possibly going to have to take a greater interest in comics due to a Cunning Plan I’ve been cooking up, and partly because some friends are over there and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the pictures of their trip, which brings me quite quickly to the point of this as virtually all the coverage of the Con is about the big events so you get endless coverage on blogs and sites about how Superman and Batman are being slung together in a World’s Finest type of film, or the Marvel Films panel, or even the frankly ludicrous Lego film which is a sign if ever there was any that the well of creativity is over in Hollywood and it’s now a slow running lukewarm stream of piss that you see outside of pubs in any city centre on a weekend.

rudeworldsfinset#1

You rarely if ever see anything about the thousands of people going for the fun of it as all these big events dominate to such a degree because the blogs and sites which mainly cover it want the hits these stories bring as it helps their SEO and gets them in many cases some advertising revenue, not to mention giving their site some sort of credibility, except most of the time what’s passing as ‘journalism’ is actually just churnalism. See this BBC report about the Superman/Batman film. It’s just a recycled press release. That’s it. Now I’m not going to be twattish (for the time being) enough to point out specific comic related sites which do exactly the same as many are just a single person trying to get by, or fansites, and anyhow naming the BBC for being guilty of churnalism is fine as they can take the small kick in the shins I can give, but really let’s be honest here, if you want to call yourself a ‘journalist’ and all your doing is rehashing press releases and being 100% positive about everything then all you and your site are doing is giving a company like Warners or Disney free advertising rather than telling the story and the truth of what’s happening at a particular time.

What annoys me is it’s giving this impression that all it’s about is helping making the studios money, when in fact from looking at friend’s pictures it looks enormous fun, but if the media (and this includes bloggers and comic sites)  only talk about one aspect, or let one aspect dominate their coverage as it helps with the hits and if their site or blog flies into the radar or Marvel or DC they might get a few freebies, and they might even get a paying gig.

All this is fine, but don’t pretend it’s journalism. It isn’t. It’s just free publicity. You’re representing only a part of the story of this generation, and you’re not telling the story of what should be told as you’re all too interested in the possibility of the paying gig at Marvel or DC, or possibly MTV, or even ITV4 rather than telling the everyday story of how people enjoy Comic Con for the big fun event I’m sure it is.

Which brings me again to reiterate the point of my blogging in that it’s not journalism, nor am I taking a moral high ground. Well, maybe just a bit, but in doing thing like my blogs about Glastonbury or the comics scene in Glasgow in the 80’s I hope I’m adding to the variety of voices, and in some cases actually adding an alternative voice to what has become, or seen, to be the consensus viewpoint which is normally that everything is wonderful or kewl or shite and sucks with little of no critical or journalistic practise going on. That’s the point of this as I’ve become so fed up with the idea that Glastonbury is about big bands playing in a field, or that comics in the 80’s was all sweetness and light. So hence this.

See the thing is in the 21st century when the web provides the greatest amount of information available in human history, the problem is that the same stories become ‘truth’ without being challenged because in many cases challenging those stories if you’re a comics journalist may mean pissing someone off who might give you a job. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since getting out of comics full time, or even part time around a decade or so ago is that you need to take criticism and that means criticising what you do as it helps you challenge things. Just accepting the norm is great if you want to progress but it doesn’t tell the truth and I suppose that’s what I’m trying to do by telling my little tales of what I’ve lived through.

That said, if someone wants to give me a paid job for doing this I’ll sell my soul gladly! Yeeee Haaaa!!!!! Man of Steel was brilllllllllllllliannnnnntttttttttttt…….LOL!!!!

Please shoot me if this ever happens….